NORMAN — The digs are constant on Oklahoma’s practice field. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has a needle and he uses it like an acupuncturist.
“He tries to push you and drive you. And he does,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “He can get under your skin sometimes.”
Jefferson fully understands the goading. He talked to some of OU’s defensive backs from 1999-2003 that played under Stoops during his first stint as defensive coordinator/secondary coach. Jefferson knew what was coming. OU’s junior free safety has become one of his main targets.
It’s not bullying by any means. Play for Mike Stoops long enough and you know those jabs are endearing and purposeful.
Jefferson has the ability to be the Sooners’ first All-American defensive back since Quinton Carter in 2009. Stoops is trying to push any button he can to squeeze that kind of production out of him. Last Saturday against UTEP, it helped produced a team-high 10 tackles and pass breakup.
Jefferson’s season got off to a fine start. He’ll try to build on it when the fifth-ranked Sooners (1-0) face Florida A&M (0-1) 6 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field.
How Jefferson goes, so goes the secondary. Moving him to that free spot after spending two seasons at nickelback was one of the gambles the Sooners took going into the season. There’s always a risk when a player changes positions. Will he adapt to the new position?
Jefferson isn’t alone. Only left cornerback Demontre Hurst started against UTEP in the same secondary spot he was playing a year ago. Javon Harris has shifted from free safety to strong safety. Aaron Colvin has moved from strong safety to right cornerback.
The result was holding the Miners to 48 passing yards.
“I think the coaches did a really good job of putting guys in the right position this year. We’ve got guys where they need to be and it shows,” Jefferson said. “They’re making plays.”